PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland, July 21 (Reuters) - Shane Lowry overcame a slow start and had one hand on the Claret Jug, five strokes clear of Englishman Tommy Fleetwood halfway through the final round at the British Open on Sunday.
If the Irishman was filled with nerves starting the day with a four-shot lead, it was not obvious early on apart from the iron shot that launched his round on the par-four first at Royal Portrush which he pulled into the rough.
But Lowry sank a confidence-boosting six-footer to salvage a bogey and looked every bit a champion for the next hour after that in the intermittent driving rain, avoiding the punishing rough and knee-high rough waiting to gobble up errant shots.
The wind, as forecast, strengthened as the leaders played the front nine, with the heavy rain adding another layer of difficulty as the worst weather of the week arrived right on schedule.
But 32-year-old Lowry handled it all as though it was a Sunday stroll in the park, keeping his ball-flight low and putting assuredly with his cross-handed putting style.
He picked off birdies at the fourth, fifth and seventh holes to extend his lead over Fleetwood, who for his part was also playing pretty well.
Lowry subsequently bogeyed the eighth hole in the worst of the weather, but Fleetwood also dropped a shot as the rain pelted down.
Another wayward drive and bogey at the ninth left Lowry on the same score as he started the day, 16-under par, as he turned for home.
Fleetwood was 11-under, while another Englishman, Lee Westwood was third on nine-under after 11 holes.
After Lowry was greeted by fervent singing amid wild if somewhat premature celebrations on Saturday, the weather on Sunday served to create a somewhat more subdued atmosphere.
As he started the more difficult back nine, Lowry no doubt recognised that it was way too early to start planning his victory speech.
Two months ago, Brooks Koepka had a six-shot lead with eight holes to play at the PGA Championship, only to make four straight bogeys before steadying the ship for a two-stroke victory. (Reporting by Simon Evans; Writing by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina)